Humanitarians pledge support for Lebanon; call on govt. reform


An emergency donor conference for Lebanon raised pledges worth nearly a quarter of a billion euros for immediate humanitarian relief, five days after the explosion which devastated a swathe of Beirut.

International leaders, government officials and international organisations participated in the teleconference on Sunday, co-organised by France and the United Nations to bring emergency aid but at the same time called for government reforms to be made.

Fifteen government leaders at the donor summit, spearheaded by French President Emmanuel Macron, promised “major resources”, according to a statement.

“Assistance should be timely, sufficient and consistent with the needs of the Lebanese people,” it said, adding that help must be “directly delivered to the Lebanese population, with utmost efficiency and transparency”.

The donors were prepared to help Lebanon’s longer term recovery if the government listened to the changes demanded by the country’s citizens, the communique said.

President Macron’s office said France had received pledges worth €252.7m (US$297m, £227m) from the summit.

Officials estimate the explosion caused up to US$15 billion (£11.5bn) of damage.

It left at least 158 people dead, 6,000 injured and 300,000 homeless. It emerged that the ammonium nitrate had been left at the port warehouse for six years despite repeated warnings it was dangerous.

Lebanon is in the midst of its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, with daily power cuts, a lack of safe drinking water and limited public healthcare.

The currency collapsed and Lebanon defaulted on its debt in March. Talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a US$10bn bailout have stalled.

It is feared that the effect of the explosion on the economy could significantly worsen the prospects of recovery.

The government has begun losing ministers critical of its failings.

Environment Minister Damianos Kattar was the second to leave the cabinet on Sunday, bemoaning a “sterile regime that botched several opportunities”.

His resignation followed that of Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad, who cited the failure to reform and the “Beirut catastrophe” as her reasons for going.

The blast at the port warehouse holding almost 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate has focused local outrage on perceived government corruption and incompetence.

Clashes have broken out for a second day running in Beirut.

Young people calling for the government to quit threw projectiles at police and shops in central Beirut, and protesters attempted to storm barricades barring access to the parliament building. A fire broke out at the scene.

Police in riot gear used tear gas as darkness fell, echoing similar scenes during protests on Saturday.

The United Nations has said more than US$100m (£76m) is needed for both emergency humanitarian aid, such as food and water, and the rebuilding of infrastructure, including hospitals and schools.

President Macron, speaking from his summer residence in southern France, called for “an impartial, credible and independent inquiry” into how the disaster was allowed to happen.

But Lebanese President Michel Aoun has already ruled out an international investigation. (Source: BBC)